Icicles in Alabama, Natchez, and Jerry Lee Lewis

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One of My Biggest Fears: Sick pets far from home!

Okay. There are a lot of things to be “afraid of” when on the road. Accidents. Breakdowns. Break-ins. Bears. Bugs. Robberies. Illness. Stinkbugs.

But one of my biggest fears before heading out on our first long RV trip last December was that one of our pets would get sick. What would we do? How would we find a vet? How would a pet’s illness affect our daily RV life and travel plans?

Take these questions and fears and multiply by four. Yes, we have three dogs and a cat. The dogs are Tucker, a handsome 95-pound Golden Retriever; Oliver, a friendly 9-pound Chihuahua; and Mitzi, an adorable and smart 16-pound mixed breed (Lhasa Apso and Silky Terrier). And then we have Cali, a beautiful, sweet 12-pound calico cat. The seniors are Cali (18) and Mitzi (11); Tucker is the baby (4), and Oliver holds his own middle-age ranking (7).

The Three Amigos

Cali doing what cats do best!

Just a few weeks into our trip, Oliver developed diarrhea. Bad diarrhea. Every 2-3 hours around the clock he needed to go out. He sleeps in the bed with us, and I was on the alert all night. When he would start trembling, I knew it was time. In the dark, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain! We were in Jacksonville, and it poured for days. When the trembling started, I would put on my sweatshirt, raincoat, and rain boots; put a little coat on Oliver; grab my umbrella; and out we’d go. Fortunately, he didn’t take long to find a spot, relieve himself, and want to go back inside. Hang up wet attire, dry off, crawl back into bed, doze for 2 hours, repeat.

 

Not feeling so well

A few days later, Tucker started up with the same problem. He’s a big boy, but I’m glad to say that he always managed to do his business outside and never in the middle of the night.

When their problems didn’t clear up after several days on a bland diet, it was time to find a vet. I knew the dogs needed metronidazole, the common treatment for diarrhea. I called my vet’s office back home, but the inexperienced vet on duty said she didn’t think she could call in a prescription from out of state. She was wrong, but by the time she called me back we’d already taken the dogs to a local vet, who prescribed metronidazole and of course had to do physical exams and charge us for office visits. Vet #1.

Tucker getting acupuncture

The best resources for finding reputable veterinarians while traveling, as far as I know, are Google and Yelp. You can find reviews of veterinary clinics by googling “veterinarians near me” or similar searches. Yelp will also show reviews when you request veterinarians near your current location. (I checked out a few pet apps but none that I found were at all helpful.) You will almost always find naysayers, so you’ll have to look for overall trends. How many stars in the ratings? What are the reasons for each reviewer’s rating? Which vets in a clinic get the highest praise? Of course, even the best of vets can get a negative review once in a while. If it’s an emergency, or you’ll be in town for only a night or two, you’ll have to take your chances on wherever you can be seen. We saw several vets during our travels, and they were all kind as well as good. Consider writing a review of your local vet or any you use while traveling so as to help other pet owners find a good vet or avoid a bad one.

Anyway, back to the saga. After a course of metronidazole, Oliver was doing better, but for Tucker the diarrhea persisted. Another prescription of metro from another vet finally turned him around, though it took him a while to get his hearty appetite back. Vet #2.

Mitzi getting laser therapy

While all this was going on with Tucker and Oliver, Mitzi was becoming lethargic and uninterested in her food. She didn’t have diarrhea, but she wasn’t well either. I took her to two vets in Fort Lauderdale for tests, follow up, acupuncture, and more tests. She took pain medication, anti-nausea medicine, metronidazole, and appetite stimulant. I hand-fed her whatever I could get her to eat. Thank God I could hide her meds in peanut butter, which she would willingly lick off my finger. Vets #3 and #4.

And Cali? She had one day of semi-diarrhea, but then stabilized. But we began to grapple with the fact that she hadn’t been vaccinated for rabies in a good number of years. Since she is a totally indoor, older cat, our vet had said it was unnecessary. So far, no campground had asked for proof of vaccination for any of our pets. But we were planning to camp at the Fort Wilderness campground in Disney World with our three young-adult kids. Not knowing if Disney is strict regarding pets’ vaccinations, and not wanting to throw a monkey wrench into our plans, we ended up taking Cali to a vet in Jacksonville for a rabies vaccine. Vet #5.

As it turns out, Disney World never asked for vaccination records for any of our pets! Neither did anyone else. We found most campgrounds to be very pet friendly, with some of them offering fenced-in “dog parks” of various sizes. One problem we encountered in several campgrounds was that, despite clear signs and rules, some folks let their dogs run off-leash. When someone would try to reassure us that their dog was friendly, I’d reply, mostly in my head, What if mine aren’t? Nothing bad has happened with off-leash dogs, but it certainly could.

Tucker and Oliver both eventually recovered from their diarrhea and did fine for the remainder of our trip. But it was a long and worrisome first month. We couldn’t identify the cause: a virus, the stress of traveling (but they are good, calm travelers), perhaps the changes in water? We’ll never know.

I just don’t feel well mom

Mitzi is another story. She remained lethargic, her appetite was nonexistent, and she was obviously stiff and sore. A Lyme test came back negative. One morning I woke up to her panting heavily. She was thin and weak by then, and we really thought she was dying. It was pretty awful. With lots of TLC and hand feeding, she gradually improved. She still wasn’t eating much other than chicken jerky treats, but at least the sparkle was back in her eyes and she was able to go on short walks with us.

In our first month on the road, one of my biggest fears had come true! It was hard for me to enjoy our travels when I was always on the alert for how the dogs were feeling and what meds they needed when. It was stressful, as it would have been at home. The stress was increased by having to find and choose well-qualified and highly rated veterinarians on the road. In that department, I think we did well. One vet offered to help us locate a vet who did acupuncture in our next location, and another gave us her personal cellphone number to use if we had any concerns while her office was closed over the Christmas holiday.

I’m glad to report that all our pets are doing well, even Mitzi. She declined again after we arrived home, and our vet suspected lymphoma, but test results proved otherwise. We still don’t have a clear diagnosis, but we are guessing that for some unknown reason her body became terribly inflamed from two previous bouts of Lyme disease. Our local vet sent us to a specialist who put her on prednisone, and she’s now doing great. She appears happy and healthy, barks for her food, eats well, and can even do some of her tricks again. We know there are major risks with prednisone, but we’ve got her down to a very low dose, and we think it’s her best option, at least for now. Vet #6 and #7.

I survived one of my biggest fears, and all the pets survived, too. I don’t want to go through anything like that again, but it might happen. At least I know that we can probably find good vets—and our home vets are only a phone call away.

If you have any additional tips or experiences about dealing with a pet’s illness or injury while on the road, please leave them in a comment below. We’ll read and respond to each one.

 

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A Quick Trip through Disney World

It was a cold day in early January when we pulled into the Fort Wilderness Campground at Walt Disney World. But we didn’t let the cold – or the rain – dampen our spirits! Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights) of our stay.

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Orange Picking at Ridge Island Groves

It was cold – in the mid-40s – as we pulled off of the main highway to experience another slice of the “real Florida.” If you’ve never tasted oranges straight off of the tree, or savored orange juice fresh-squeezed on the farm where it was grown, this is a stop that you’ve got to visit if you ever get a chance. And did I mention homemade orange ice cream?

That’s just part of what you’ll find on the latest episode of Miles and Smiles!

As always, we eagerly look forward to your comments and questions. Next up: Tips on a Great Disney Experience.

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Lions, and tigers, and… Krispy Kreme donuts? Oh my!

This week’s short video highlights some of our favorite stops while traveling around southern Florida. Whether it’s drinking a fresh, frozen pineapple drink in Fort Lauderdale, marveling at the lions, tigers, and other big cats at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, discovering a bridge to be defended “at all costs” from the Second Seminole Indian War, or savoring a delicious donut, hot out of the fryer, you’re invited to join us as we cover the miles with smiles!

 

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Finding the Real Florida

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

If you think of “Disney” when you think “Florida,” then you’re missing the REAL Florida. We hope you enjoy our latest video, which includes alligators, Homeland Security, a quick overview of different kinds of RV parks, cute dogs, a cat, and a swamp-buggy ride with our kids.

It’s impossible to capture the beauty and diversity of Kissimmee Prairie in an eight-minute video, so here are a few additional things we think you might want to know.

From the park website https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Kissimmee-Prairie

  • This 54,000 acre preserve protects the largest remaining stretch of Florida dry prairie, home to an array of endangered plants and animals. While driving the five-mile-long road into the preserve, visitors can enjoy sweeping vistas of grasslands reminiscent of the Great Plains of the Midwest.
  • The preserve offers excellent seasonal birding opportunities and is home to the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, as well as the Crested Caracara and Burrowing Owl.
  • More than 100 miles of dirt roads allow hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians to explore prairies, wetlands, and shady hammocks.* November through March, ranger-led prairie buggy tours allow visitors to see remote areas of the preserve.
  • Kissimmee Prairie’s remoteness makes it one of Florida’s premier locations for stargazing.
  • For overnight stays, the Preserve has two full-facility campground loops: family and an equestrian campground with paddocks. Proof of current negative Coggins test is required for all horses.

While we were in the park we were able to take advantage of the dark skies to watch part of the Geminid Meteor Shower. Many of our fellow campers had elaborate telescope setups for even better stargazing. We and our kids were awed by how dark the night can be and how brightly the multitude of stars can shine without “light pollution.” Spectacular!

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?”  Psalm 8:3-4

You should also know that the park is named for the Kissimmee River that runs through it, and is not near the city of Kissimmee, which is about 90 miles to the north (close to a two-hour drive). Yep, we learned that the hard way.

You should also know that it is remote. REMOTE. About a 15-minute drive from the campground you’ll find one tiny store that sells essentials such as milk and eggs, soft drinks, and dusty “junk” that the widely scattered locals might need, such as screws, nuts, and bolts, and lots of stuff that nobody seems to have needed for a very long time. There is a small Mexican restaurant attached but it was closed for renovations. In other words, bring with you everything you’ll need for the length of your stay. The nearest Walmart is an hour away. The nearest hotel is 45 minutes away, and a second is over an hour. REMOTE.

Kissimmee Prairie Reserve State Park offers a unique camping experience! We highly recommend a visit the next time you are in Florida.

*Hammock is a term used in the southeastern United States for stands of trees, usually hardwood, that form an ecological island in a contrasting ecosystem. Hammocks grow on elevated areas, often just a few inches high, surrounded by wetlands that are too wet to support them.

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ARE YOU OVERWEIGHT?

When driving a car, most of us rarely give much thought to how much it weighs. But when driving a full-size RV, knowing how much you weigh can literally mean the difference between life and death!

FYI: This is a somewhat technical post on RV weight and safety. If you’re an RVer, this is information you really need to know. If you just want to read about our travel destinations and adventures, we’ll have a new post up for you soon. Either way, we hope you’ll enjoy this short video!

Every RV comes with a plaque that lists the maximum safe weight for the vehicle when fully loaded. In our case, the maximum is 22,000 pounds, or 11 tons! That’s a lot of weight. It also lists the maximum weight on each axle, and the maximum if you are towing another vehicle.

GVWR – Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, the maximum weight of your vehicle, fully loaded CCC – Cargo Carrying Capacity GCWR – Gross Combined Weight Rating, the maximum total weight of your fully loaded vehicle plus anything that you are towing.

Driving overweight can cause a list of catastrophic problems with your vehicle:

  • The suspension/shock absorbers can fail, causing you to (best case) bottom out when hitting bumps in the road, or even (worst case) lose a wheel while driving at highway speeds.
  • The brakes can fail by becoming overheated while trying to stop more weight than they can handle.
  • The transmission can fail.
  • The tires can fail, causing a blowout at highway speeds.

And if your own vehicle doesn’t fail, what about that bridge you’re crossing with a six-ton weight limit?

So, the first thing any RV owner should know is how much your unit weighs with everything you usually carry in it – because everything counts! For instance, our motorhome has a 100-gallon fresh-water tank. Water weighs 8.34 pounds per gallon, so when we have a full tank, we are carrying an extra 834 pounds in water alone! Gasoline is 6.3 pounds per gallon, so if our 75-gallon tank is full, that’s another 472.5 pounds. Now, add three dogs and a cat, two people, all of our clothing, food, tools, pots and pans, camping equipment, games, books, computers and electronics, bicycles and heavy-duty rack, and you can see how it all adds up very quickly.

That’s why we made a detour during our trip to have our RV weighed at the Escapees “SmartWeigh” station at the Sumter Oaks RV park in Bushnell, Florida. The advantage of SmartWeigh over the scales in most truck stops is that it weighs every wheel, not just every axle, which can help you redistribute the weight in your vehicle as evenly as possible.

GOOD NEWS! We passed. And we learned something new about our tires!

Fully loaded, our rig weighed 21,200 pounds, leaving us 800 pounds to spare even when our three grown kids are traveling with us!

Our front axle balanced out perfectly with 3,200 pounds on each wheel. The rear axle was close with 7,200 pounds on the right and 7,600 pounds on the left.

So, what does this have to do with tires?

I learned to inflate my car’s tires to the maximum pressure listed on the tire itself. But this is absolutely wrong! Each of the tires should be inflated according to the weight that its axle is supporting.

On a car, the weight is low enough that you can usually just inflate the tires to the pressure listed on the sticker on your door (or in some cases, inside the gas door). On a heaver vehicle like a motorhome you should look to the chart that most tire manufactures post on their website, based on the weight each axle is carrying. This inflation based on weight will assure that your tires have just the right amount of tread in contact with the road for maximum life, drivability, and stopping power. In our case, this means that our four rear tires should each be inflated to 80 pounds when cold. The front tires need 95 pounds.

Always fill your tires when cold! The heat of driving down the road causes the air to expand and can increase the internal pressure by as much as 15 pounds. The tire manufacturers take this into account on their recommend inflation charts.

Comments? Questions? Please give your feedback in the comments below!

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100 SUBSCRIBERS!

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To our 100+ YouTube video subscribers. Thanks to you our channel now has a new, custom URL: www.youtube.com/c/milesandsmiles4u

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BBQ, Beaches, and Black Tape!

We love eating BBQ and camping at the beach. We’ve come to love black tape too, by which we mean Gorilla Tape. Let’s go down the B list one by one, and you’ll find out why. Or, just watch the video!

 

Kathy gets ready to dig in at Doug Sauls’ BBQ

We love BBQ, and one of our favorite BBQ joints is Doug Sauls’ BBQ in Nashville, North Carolina. If your image of BBQ is fall-off-the-bone ribs smothered in sweet, sticky tomato-based sauce, enjoy to the max! But let go of that image when you’re in the Carolinas. We discovered as much when we found Doug Sauls’ BBQ. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but you can’t judge a restaurant by its looks. Inside we found a small, simple, nicely maintained restaurant filled with the savory scents of slow-cooked pork and fried chicken. The baked (not smoked) pulled pork was smothered with North-Carolina–style vinegar BBQ sauce. Doug Sauls’ son, who took over the business after his father died, explained to us that his sauce is just vinegar, crushed red peppers, and salt. It was amazing, and our taste buds danced with joy at every forkful! Yelp reviews said that their chicken was a must-try, and they were right. Crispy and hot, lightly seasoned and right from the fryer, even the white meat was “wipe your chin after every bite” juicy. The friendly staff noted our northern accents and were eager to share their southern hospitality. Their accents were deep south and even a bit difficult for us to understand at times, but it didn’t matter because their food was mmm-mmm-good!

Jeff sets up for a time-lapse video

As we continued south, we stopped at what turned out to be one of our favorite campgrounds: Edisto (with the accent on the first syllable) State Park in Edisto Beach, South Carolina. This beautifully maintained park sits on a finger of land between a salt marsh to the west and a gorgeous white-sand beach to the east. In other words, you’re always close to the water. In fact, we were so close that when an especially high full-moon tide came in on our first night, we found that the salt-marsh extended into our campsite and just about to the door of our RV! Thankfully, tides also recede and campsites dry out.

Home Sweet Campsite

The weather turned cold and rainy at Edisto (a developing theme for this trip), but before it did we had a wonderful time riding our bicycles, walking along the beach, and exploring the park’s beautiful and very informative nature center. We’d love to visit again sometime when the weather is warmer.

Low tide reveals oysters growing in the tidal marsh

After we left Edisto and continued down I-95 south, Jeff happened to look up at the wooden cabinet above the driver’s seat and noticed that the wood cabinet door was literally falling apart! One good bump and the door could have come crashing down on his head, followed by all the computer equipment stored on the shelves behind it. Not a good thing while driving 60 mph in heavy traffic!

Fortunately, we were able to pull safely off the road before such tragedy struck. Upon examination, we discovered that the center panel of the door had come unglued from its wooden frame, such that the whole cabinet door was falling apart.

Perhaps you’ve heard that you can fix anything with Duct Tape. Well, black Gorilla Tape is even better! It’s remarkably strong and sticky. After taping the driver-side cabinet door back together, we discovered that the cabinet on the passenger side was starting to break apart, too. After more Gorilla Tape and a prayer of thanks that we’d discovered the problem before disaster struck, we continued our drive south towards Florida.

“Why,” you might ask, “are things constantly breaking and falling apart on your RV?”

The first reason is age. Even though our RV had less than 7,000 miles on it when we bought it last year, it was still built in 2004. Over time rubber seals dry out, glue cracks, and unused thingamajigs and whatchamacallits freeze, thaw, rust, come loose, and fail. We knew this when we bought the RV, which is why we also bought a comprehensive extended warranty (see which warranty we bought and why HERE) so that we would be able to limit our out-of-pocket cost of repairs.

The second reason is movement. Imagine what would happen to your kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom and all your electronics if they were subjected to an almost daily earthquake. That’s what RV fixtures experience every time you roll over a pothole, navigate a sharp curve on an exit ramp, or make a sudden (or not so sudden) stop for traffic. And the outside parts of the RV are simultaneously being subjected to 50, 60, even 70 mph winds. Every time you drive. Again and again. That’s why we travel with a full tool kit and lots of Gorilla Tape! When you think about it, it’s amazing that RVs hold together as well as they do.

Next up: “Warm and Sunny” Florida!

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First Day, Free Camping, and Foul Ups

Wow! When we started our trip south (back in November) we thought we’d be posting one blog and one video a week. Now it’s ten weeks later, and we’ve got so many great things to share. But for now, this blog/video is about our first day on the road! A day with a couple of dumb mistakes, and a bunch of great memories.

The scenery on the eastern shore of Maryland was so beautiful that we actually missed the turn into Cabin Creek Heritage Farm. Also, we had entered the wrong address—off by one digit is all it takes!

So, for the first but not the last time, we had to unhook our car, turn the RV around in a driveway, and backtrack to the farm.

 

Cabin Creek is part a club called Harvest Hosts, a group of farms, wineries, and museums that offer free overnight stays to RVers. It’s $49/year to join, after which there’s no charge to stay for one night at any member property, and there’s no limit to how many places you stay. There are usually no hookups for water/electric/sewer, but most RVs are self-contained and that’s no problem. Even though campers are not required to buy anything, it’s been a great part of our experience to sample wines, cheeses, and other produce, and buy something that we’ll enjoy down the road. Building good, unique camping memories is a primary reason for staying with Harvest Hosts—as well as no fee. Each Harvest Host experience is different.

Here are a few of the reasons we loved our one-night stay at Cabin Creek Heritage Farm:

  1. Approaching the farm

    The rural setting is gorgeous. Rolling hills and colorful woodlands are not what you’d picture just east of Washington, DC. And the rustic farmhouse, barns, farm animals, and grazing sheep create a serene setting for a peaceful overnight stay.

The warm welcome and hospitality we received when we arrived, and throughout our visit, was very special. Lori and Doug Hill own and run the farm, along with help from their three grown children when they are able. We were also greeted by guinea hens, chickens and roosters, their dog, and a curious cat or two.

  1. We learned about the sustainable farming methods that preserve the land and allow their animals freedom to graze in fields and woods and their fowl to eat grubs from the ground. They use no hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides. They go as far as Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to purchase the best grains possible to feed their animals. As Lori said, “If you are what you eat, then you are what your food eats, too!”

Lori is very accustomed to talking about their farm, and spent half an hour explaining their method of farming and answering our questions. Some highlights of our conversation are recorded on the video.

The most fascinating aspect was how the woodland pigs are raised, fed, and mated. They are given as natural a life as possible while being organized into age-groups to eventually become tasty meat. They don’t name the animals (except for the boar and a couple of sows, whose main jobs are mating rather than becoming meat. Nice job if you can get it!) or it would too hard to say goodbye; it is a business, after all.

3. They welcome groups throughout the year for visits to their farm—from schools, colleges, senior centers, and more—and are committed to educating others about eco-friendly farming methods.

4. They have delicious meats and produce at their farm store! Store hours are 10 am–2 pm on Saturdays, or by appointment. They raise and “process” their own chicken, and send the rest out to carefully chosen and humane processing houses. In the store you’ll find various cuts of beef, pork, and chicken, along with bacon, sausage, and fresh eggs. (Lori also gave me a half a dozen quail eggs to try. Tiny but delicious!)

That being said, the meats at Cabin Creek were so inviting that we ended up buying over a hundred dollars’ worth! Although camping was free, it has ended up being our most expensive stay! Of course we enjoyed our meats, chicken, bacon and sausage, and eggs for many meals to come and were reminded each time of our wonderful visit to Cabin Creek.

By the way, Lori offered to run an extension cord from their barn so that we could, in fact, have electricity for the night, which we graciously accepted. When we asked what time we needed to leave, we were told we could stay as long as we want. I suspect we could have even stayed another night, but as much as we hated to leave, we were eager to keep moving south, and Harvest Hosts discourages club members from overstaying our welcome.

Before we left, we were curious about their house, and Lori gave us a little tour. The original house was facing sideways, so they had it turned ninety degrees, and then moved a log cabin up from Tennessee and connected the two. We were delighted to discover a wall hanging that mentioned God and to learn that they are faithful Christians and that their passion for sustainable farming grows from their dedication to caring for God’s creation.

We loved Cabin Creek Heritage Farm and would definitely stay there again. RVing is an adventure, and this was a great way to begin our trip. Stay tuned for highlights of our journey, both good and bad, coming up soon in our blogs and vlogs. We know we are way behind, but hope you will join us as we travel and explore.

We’d love to hear your comments and questions. Please subscribe below if you’d like to get an email when our next blog or video is published.

Remember: Life’s a journey. Make every mile count!

www.harvesthosts.com
If you happen to join Harvest Hosts, please let them know that Jeff & Kathy Wildrick sent you.

www.cabincreekheritagefarm.com

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